FIFA COVER stars – there have been a lot of them.
At one time, it felt as though FIFA and PES might outlive every other vestige of society — two eternal gladiators of football gaming locked in a perpetual jostle for our love and microtransactions.
Then, quite abruptly, they both changed their names. FIFA is no more. Long live EA Sports FC.
A momentous, er, moment like this makes you stop and think.
All those games we played, trying to get the keeper to kick it against our backs and score cheap goals.
All those in-form Messi FUT cards we watched YouTubers shriek about until their Mums came in and told them off. And the glitches. Oh, the glitches.
And above all, the cover stars. The FIFA series charts the biggest names in the sport, cover by cover, since 1993.
At least, that’s what you’d imagine, until you go back and actually look at them and discover that actually it’s been a cavalcade of absolutely mad decisions for 29 years.
A quick note: from the mid-noughties onwards FIFA started releasing region-specific covers, and when special editions of the game started happening they’d feature different cover athletes still.
We’re focusing on the covers of standard edition games that released in the UK.
FIFA International Soccer (1993) – David Platt and Piotr Swierczewski
This was the FIFA series debut, and the image on this cover has a lot more ‘what pictures of men playing professional football can we get the rights to?’ energy than ‘which demigod of the sport can we get to represent our videogame on the cover?’ as was the trend later in the series.
As such, please enjoy this image of David Platt calmly shepherding a ball out for a throw-in under mild pressure from Polish midfielder Piotr Swiercewski.
FIFA Soccer 1995 (1994) – Erik Thorstvedt
Norwegian international and Spurs alumnus Erik Thorstvedt is the only goalie ever to grace the FIFA cover.
Perhaps EA Sports decided to honour him for that goal he scored, but personally I think it’s simply this pose that swung it.
Look at him! Never getting to that ball is he, but what an image.
FIFA Soccer 1996 (1995) – Andy Legg and Ioan Sabau
Roll up, roll up, come one and all, and buy the scintillating new football game from EA Sports where you too can emulate the exploits of Notts County legend Andy Legg putting in a rash tackle on Brescia’s Ioan Sabău.
FIFA 97 (1996) – David Ginola
This is more like it. David Ginola’s appearance on FIFA 97’s cover was the first that seemed to be picked using the criteria of the star himself, rather than just a general scene where seemingly random footballers have at it.
He was a big deal at this time, having recently joined The Entertainers from PSG and graced a Loreal advert.
What’s happened to his badge and kit sponsors, though? Don’t tell me you forgot your uniform again, David?
Right, fish some black and white stuff out of the lost property bin, that’ll have to do.
FIFA: Road to World Cup 98 (1997) – David Beckham
At once, the best and worst timing for Beckham’s appearance on a FIFA cover.
He was as ubiquitous in British culture at the time as girl power, hosepipe bans or the Gallagher brothers calling someone else’s music rubbish.
Who else to grace the box of a game about our brave, brave boys heading to the ‘98 World Cup?
EA Sports weren’t to know what would happen that warm June night at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Étienne the following year.
They couldn’t have predicted that golden boy (and, indeed, golden balls) Beckham would be characterised as the one stupid boy in a squad of otherwise heroic lions.
Massively unfair in retrospect, wasn’t it?
Still, you can’t imagine a man who people genuinely built effigies of to ignite would swing many people to buy a video game after World Cup ‘98.
FIFA 99 (1998) – Dennis Bergkamp
You can always count on Dennis Bergkamp to keep it classy though.
There really isn’t much to say about his appearance on the FIFA 99 cover other than what a magisterial, sophisticated player.
What a goal that was from a tight angle at the ‘98 World Cup. What a career. What a man.
Also his Arsenal badge, kit maker and Premier League badges are all visible here so apparently whatever licensing limitations EA had when Ginola was on the cover had been resolved.
FIFA 2000 (1999)- Sol Campbell
Honestly, just imagine going in for the 50-50 in this image. Imagine the sheer fear you couldn’t help but feel with Big Sol bearing down on you.
Better to just let him have it, or you’d only make him angry.
Campbell is the first defender to get a sole cover appearance in the series, and you have to say deservedly so.
There’s not a team in the world that he wouldn’t have easily slipped into the starting squad of, such was his command of that centreback role.
He does appear to have forgotten his kit like Ginola though, and is subsequently also playing in unbadged lost property bin clobber.
FIFA 2001 (2000) – Paul Scholes
The reputation around Paul Scholes throughout his career was of the quiet man who was happy for other class of ‘92 players to take the limelight while he dutifully rifled in 30-yarders and jogged off in humble celebration.
It’s nice that FIFA 2001 took the time to spotlight him, then, albeit during one of his international matches where England wore the infamous ‘invisible ink’ kit.
FIFA Football 2002 (2001) – Thierry Henry
Hey Bobby! What’s the French for va va voom?
Henry was the first of a new breed of Premier League star.
A foreign import who concerned himself with entertaining the crowd just as much as getting the result, always ready with a lithe shoulder-drop and a deadpan celebration.
Frankly there’s nobody better to typify the sport in this period. Well done, FIFA.
FIFA Football 2003 (2002) – Roberto Carlos, Ryan Giggs and Edgar Davids
A game of firsts. Licensed shirts and badges in-game for the first time.
Free kicks that actually worked, and felt enjoyable. And a trio of cover stars, all posing for the game box this time, not simply captured mid-match.
FIFA 2003 was all about putting spin on the ball and trying audacious tricks, so this trio of supremely skillful players makes a lot of sense.
Nice to see a defender make an appearance again too, likewise some club and kit maker logos.
FIFA Football 2004 (2003) – Alessandro Del Piero, Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho
This cover marks the first returning face to FIFA in Thierry Henry. Andy Legg must have been fuming.
Ronaldinho and Del Piero join him, all sprinting headlong into the camera for some reason.
Also that Nike kit template was great, wasn’t it?
FIFA Football 2005 (2004) – Patrick Vieira, Fernando Morientes and Andriy Shevchenko
Same formula as the last two games, mixed results.
Morientes would sign for Liverpool and be absolutely rubbish there, Vieira would be sold to Juve at the end of the season, and Shevvers… well, he held up his end of the bargain truthfully, scoring 17 that season.
FIFA 06 (2005) – Wayne Rooney and Ronaldinho
We’re into the Rooney years now, lads.
If you’re not interested in watching somebody gradually work their way through the Norwood hair loss scale in baggy AIG Man United shirts for the best part of a decade, you might want to scroll down a bit and pick this up further on.
This is a pretty good cover though, isn’t it?
Ronaldinho was still picking apart the world’s best teams apparently on a whim, Rooney was a real force of nature, and look: rain. So much of it that the United badge has worn completely off.
FIFA 07 (2006) – Wayne Rooney and Ronaldinho
EA Sports decided to follow up FIFA 06’s cover with… Rooney and Ronaldinho.
The rain has now abated, Rooney finds to his delight that the badge has reappeared on his kit, but the Brazilian forward’s fortunes don’t appear to have gone as well.
Maybe he was just growing bored of shimmying past the entire Real Madrid side by now.
FIFA 08 (2007) – Wayne Rooney and Ronaldinho
Eric and Ernie. Holly and Phillip. Ant and Dec. A belligerent and prolific England striker and a mercurial Brazilian forward who never once played together at club level.
Iconic double acts for the ages, the lot of them.
FIFA 09 (2008) – Ronaldinho and Wayne Rooney
Welcome back lads, how have you been? Good, good. Listen, I’m just gonna pop out and wash my car, give me a shout when you’re not on the FIFA cover anymore, would you?
FIFA 10 (2009) – Theo Walcott, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard
The duo’s stranglehold on FIFA covers is finally broken! In their place are Theo Walcott, Frank Lampard and… Wayne Rooney.
What? You’re kidding me. It’s only bloody Wazza again. You just can’t keep this kid down.
Walcott earned his place by running at about 45mph down the wing whenever he got the ball, Lampard for his unique blend of controlled midfield passes and absolutely walloping them in on the half-volley from just outside the box, and Rooney for a fearlessness and tenacity that looking back, only Sir Alex Ferguson would have been able to channel positively.
FIFA 11 (2010) – Kaka and Wayne Rooney
Console generations had risen and fallen since Rooney first got picked for a FIFA cover.
The balance of power in the Premier League tilted dramatically after Abramovic’s Chelsea buyout and Arsenal’s slow decline from dominance.
Facebook and Twitter came out, MySpace fell away. And all the while, there he was. On the FIFA cover again.
Kaka, meanwhile, had been one of the biggest and most respected names in football that entire duration, but by the time of his cover nod the sheen was starting to come off.
The technical master was losing a half-step due to long-term injury, and wasn’t quite as dominant at Real Madrid as in his Milan days. Still, a deserved appearance.
FIFA 12 (2011) – Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere
Alright Wayne? Who’s this you’ve brought with you this year? Jack Wilshere, is it? But hasn’t he been ruled out of the 2011-12 season completely with a fractured ankle? He has, right, I see.
Poor Wilshere. The Arsenal youngster had already staked his place on a FIFA cover on the strength of his previous few seasons, but it was a shame that the year he finally got the spot was the same season he made precisely zero appearances.
FIFA 13 (2012) – Lionel Messi
I’ve been looking at this cover for quite a while now, and I can’t see Wayne Rooney in it anywhere. Help me out.
As far as I can tell, FIFA 14’s cover breaks a seven-cover deadlock for Rooney and ushers in a new approach to FIFA covers, one which showcases a new exciting talent with each new edition of the game.
In this case Lionel Messi, famous for scoring about 150 goals every season since he debuted for Barcelona at age 3. Can’t argue with this pick can you. Wonder which athlete they’ll pick next year!
FIFA 14 (2013) – Lionel Messi
FIFA 15 (2014) – Eden Hazard and Lionel Messi
Eden Hazard joins Messi for FIFA 15’s cover, and while the two of them would later become direct rivals when Hazard signed for Real, this was probably the peak of the lithe Belgian’s powers.
Messi would score 58 goals in all competitions that season to Hazard’s 19, but Eden wasn’t the same kind of outright goalscorer anyway. Not with Diego Costa lurking in the box.
FIFA 16 (2015) – Lionel Messi
We’re back to a lone Leo Messi for FIFA 16, representing the diminutive Argentine’s continued dominance through the era.
He was the highest-rated player in the game, the best in-form FUT card you could get, and still scoring like he’d found the cheat codes to real life.
FIFA 17 (2016) – Marco Reus
And just like that, from absolutely nowhere, Marco Reus topples Messi.
The Dortmund-devoted German winger was the first player who isn’t Wayne Rooney, Leo Messi, or someone sharing the cover with Wayne Rooney or Leo Messi, to get the cover athlete spot for 11 years.
He made 17 appearances that season, but he did score seven goals in that short amount of play time.
FIFA 18 (2017) – Cristiano Ronaldo
CR7. The dominant force in football, abdominal definition and wet-look gel for over a decade, finally getting his moment on the FIFA cover. You love to see it.
Ronaldo would probably have described it as ‘unbelievable’ in that incredibly charming Portuguese lilt he has, before jumping 15 feet in the air to bosh in a header.
If you want an easy way to tell an athlete’s diet is on point, being able to see each individual fiber and sinew of their neck is a good tell.
This is not a man prone to late-night mixed shawarma wraps with extra garlic mayo.
FIFA 19 (2018) – Cristiano Ronaldo
Here he is again, running while looking sideways in a photo studio.
Let’s use his second cover appearance to mention some of the amazing charitable work he does.
In 2020 he donated over £1 million to three Portuguese hospitals to help with the Covid pandemic.
He sold one of his Golden Boot awards to raise money that funded the construction of several schools in Gaza.
He also auctioned off a Player of The Year award with funds going to Make A Wish.
He’s an ambassador for Save the Children, UNICEF and World Vision. Decent player, too.
FIFA 20 (2019) – Virgil van Dijk and Eden Hazard
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a defender on the cover, hasn’t it?
You’ve got to go back to Roberto Carlos in FIFA 2003 before Van Dijk breaks the back four duck, and he’s joined by returning star Eden Hazard, by now at Real Madrid and like so many Los Merengues signings, never quite finding the same form he enjoyed in the Prem.
FIFA 21 (2020) – Kylian Mbappé
After an incredibly impressive World Cup campaign in 2018 which saw Kylian lift the trophy with his compatriots, several prodigious seasons at AS Monaco and a massive money move to PSG, one could hardly begrudge him a place on the FIFA 21 cover.
Poignantly, this cover also marks something of a handing over of the torch in football.
Messi and Ronaldo would leave their long-time La Liga homes for new clubs, with the sense that perhaps age was catching up with them.
Mbappé looked like the new torchbearer for Ballon d’Or-level footballers to come.
FIFA 22 (2021) – Kylian Mbappé
Remember David Platt and Piotr Swierczewski jostling for that throw-in?
All the goals we scored in the interim. All the absolute bull FIFA cooked up in its cauldron of crossbar shots, MIA back lines and missed tackles in online matches.
The millions of dollars spent on imaginary playing cards, and the careers it launched for countless influencers.
It all brought us here, to FIFA’s penultimate cover.
Once again Kylian Mbappé occupies it, proudly continuing a lineage put forth by Andy Legg, Fernando Morientes, and Theo Walcott.
Written by Phil Iwaniuk on behalf of GLHF.
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https://www.thesun.ie/tech/9105571/fifa-cover-stars/ Every FIFA cover athlete | The Irish Sun